Ceded lands spur vigil, bill and court case


POSTED: Saturday, February 21, 2009

The state Senate unanimously approved yesterday a restriction on the sale or transfer of former Hawaiian monarchy lands by the state.

The measure is a strong reaction to Gov. Linda Lingle's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that barred the state from selling 1.2 million acres of ceded lands until the claims of native Hawaiians are resolved.

Lingle's appeal is the subject of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The legislation falls short of a full moratorium on sales of ceded lands that some native Hawaiians and their allies in the Legislature had sought.

But if enacted, the bill would make it politically difficult for the state to sell or transfer anything more than small portions of the lands until native Hawaiian claims are settled.

Lingle has said that she has no plans to sell or otherwise transfer large swaths of ceded lands but wants the right to do so.

While there was no debate on the bill, on which Lingle has not taken a position, there was some back-and-forth before passage of two nonbinding resolutions that urge Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett to drop the appeal.

Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) said the resolutions demonstrated that the legislative and judicial branches “;stand united as one when it comes to the disposition of what were formally crown and government lands, which were taken without the consent or compensation of a peaceful kingdom by a colonial power.”;

Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D, Downtown-Waikiki) said he would vote for the resolutions because Lingle and Bennett were not “;fully respecting the wishes”; of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

But Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) said the state should have unlimited right to sell its lands.

“;Really, it's a state's rights issue,”; he said. “;For 22 consecutive years now, the executive branch has taken the position that the state has the ability to do these things. Only now are we questioning what can be done.”;

Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said the resolutions do not dovetail with the bill requiring legislative approval of ceded-land sales, which he backed.

“;The states should and must have the right to manage their resources,”; he said.

The measure requiring a legislative OK for ceded-land sales now heads to the House, where similar bills have been blocked by the leadership—to the consternation of supporters.

That frustration bubbled up at a news conference held before the Senate vote by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Vicky Holt Takamine, a representative of 'Ilio'ulaokalani, a coalition of Hawaiian cultural practitioners, said native Hawaiians will be visiting legislative offices on Wednesday to push for the measures.

“;The House bills are going to be dead after today,”; she said. “;I want to know why, so I will be sending our people up there to go and ask them. ... Maybe there needs to be new leadership in the House, a change of leadership in the House.”;

The Legislature makes policy for the state, and it should not wait until the Supreme Court rules before it acts, said Clyde Namuo, administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

“;What troubles me is we're asking them to make policy,”; he said. “;That policy should not somehow be dependent upon how the Judiciary rules.”;

Namuo's agency and other community groups will be sponsoring a vigil on Wednesday at the state Capitol, timed to start just before oral arguments commence at the U.S. Supreme Court.

At about 5 a.m., when the hearing will start, prayers and pahu drums will sound; drums will beat every hour until the end of the vigil. Several churches will ring their bells at 5 a.m. in support.